Scientific Name(s): Centaurium erythraea Rafn.
Common Name(s): Bitter herb, Centaurri herba, Centaury, Centaury gentian, Centaury herb, Christ's ladder, Common centaury, Feverwort, Filwort, Lesser centaury, Minor centaury, Red centaury
Centaurium consists of approximately 40 species (annuals or biennials) that can vary according to area, size, and other situations. Examples include C. spicatum (Australian species), E. latifolia (broad-leaved centaury), and the German species of C. pulchellum (dwarf centaury) and C. vulgare. The last 2 have similar effects to C. erythraea but are more scarce and, therefore, not used for medicinal purposes.
Centaury is a small, annual herb, native to Europe and naturalized in the United States. It thrives in boggy meadows as well as in dry dunes. Its stiff, square stem is quite distinctive and ranges from approximately 7 to 30 cm in height. The root is fibrous and woody. The plant has pale green, oval leaves, a capsule fruit, and light pink to red flowers. The whole herb (Centaurii herba) is used in medicine. The dried preparation is easily identified by red particles (dried flower), among the pale green leaf matter.Osol 1955, USDA 2016, Weiss 2000 Synonyms are Erythraea centaurium, C. umbellatum Gilbert, C. minus Moench.
Centaury has been used traditionally since the 10th century, possibly even by Saxon herbalists for treating fever, hence the name "feverwort." Traditionally, centaury has been used as a remedy for snakebite, anorexia, and GI complaints such as bloating, dyspepsia, and flatulence. It is reputed to be an aromatic bitter and tonic, and to act on the liver and kidneys to purify the blood. Use of centaury as an anthelminthic and febrifuge has been reported, as well as a use as a sedative, for jaundice, and topically for freckles and spots on the skin.Blumenthal 1998, Newall 1996, Duke 2002
C. erythraea contains several iridoid constituents including gentiopicroside, centapicrin, centauroside, erythrocentaurin, amongst others, which are responsible for the bitter characteristics of the plant.
Alkaloids, xanthones and phenolic acids have been identified, and are similar to those of gentian. Triterpenoids and sterols including amyrin, crataegolic and oleanic acids, erythrodiol, and sitosterol stigmasterol, campesterol, and brassicasterol have also been described. Other components found in the plant include flavonoids, fatty acids, alkenes, waxes, resins, and essential oil.Aberham 2011, Barillas 2000, Duke 1992, Glatz 2000, Schmidt 2000, Valentao 2000
Uses and Pharmacology
Research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of centaury as an anti-inflammatory agent.
Diuretic activity in rats has been reported.Haloui 2000
Certain xanthones may possess antimutagenic actions against several strains of Salmonella typhimuriumSchimmer 1996; while mutagenicity itself has been demonstrated for methanolic extracts of related gentian (Gentiana lutea L.).WHO 1999
There is no published clinical evidence to guide dosage of centaury. The German Commission E monograph calls for 1 to 2 g of herb daily, while other uses for dyspepsia specify as much as 6 g.Blumenthal 1998, Duke 2002
Pregnancy / Lactation
None well documented.
Information is lacking. A case report of hepatotoxicity existsInformation is lacking in general.Blumenthal 1998, Duke 2002 A case report of hepatotoxicity exists; Sychev however, causality was not established and has been questioned.Sychev 2011 however, causality was not established.Stahlmann 2012
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